Happy birthday Pa Mortensen – we went to the fish markets for your birthday!
First and foremost: O tanjō-bi omedetō-gozaimasu to the eldest of our clan! Happy birthday Pa Mortensen – hope you had a great 71st anniversary of your birth. We thought we’d head out to the Tsukiji Markets in your honour!
Tsukiji Market is Tokyo’s central wholesale market for fish, beef, chicken, fruits and vegetables. It is the biggest wholesale seafood market in the world, and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind, anywhere. The market handles more than 750,000 tons of seafood every day – from cheap seaweed to really expensive caviar; from tiny sardines to 300kg tuna. A similarly staggering quantity of fruits and vegetables is sold to restauranteurs, retail owners and “middle men” on a daily basis.
Essentially Tsukiji Market consists of an inner market, where most of the wholesale business and the famous tuna auctions take place, and an outer market, where retail stalls and cubby-hole sized restaurants carter to the general public. The markets have become a major tourist attraction in recent years; so much so that all those gawking visitors entering the inner markets were becoming a problem, interfering with the vendors’ ability to carry out their business. For this reason the number of visitors allowed into the inner part of wholesale market is limited to 120 per day, with entry passes issued from 5:00am on a first-come, first-serve basis. Needless to say, we DID NOT get up in time to get an entry pass! I’m on holiday man, why would I get up at 4:00am?? We therefore focussed our attentions on the outer market, which was more than enough of a sensory overload, thank you very much. There was plenty to see, hear and smell (oh my God, the smells!) at 10:00am when we got there.
It was a seriously intense sensory experience, with hundreds of people milling around (a mix of tourists checking out the goods for sale and locals trying to do their shopping), hawkers touting their wares vociferously, and delivery-men trying to weave their way through the crowds. And the smells were overpowering – fresh fish, smoked fish, dried fish, cooking fish, pickled (and pickling) vegetables, seaweed and sea vegetables, freshly slaughtered chicken and beef; all mixed in with the smell of rain and newly wet road (it’s raining today). We had had ideas of buying some fresh sushi for lunch at the markets, but our delicate little Western stomachs were doing flips at the thought – it was just too much visual, auditory and olfactory “noise” for us to even contemplate eating!
It was awesome and an experience I would recommend for anyone visiting Tokyo, but we definitely needed a change of pace after that start to the day! So we headed towards the nearby suburb/ward of Ginza to check out its glitzy, glamorous shops and enjoy brunch somewhere less fishy and noisy.
Ginza is the “up-market” part of Tokyo; named after the silver-coin mint established in the area in 1612, it’s one luxury brand store after another. The kind of stores that wouldn’t even let two tourist bums like us in, coz it’s pretty obvious we can’t afford their wares! We got to see the famous Hattori Clock Tower, built in 1881 by Japanese watch maker Kintaro Hattori, the founder of Seiko watches (apparently seiko means both success and precision – good name for a watch company really!). The only other sight of note we stumbled across was the Kabuki-za, Tokyo’s principal kabuki theatre. Currently playing is “The Sumida River” (Sumidagawa); the blurb reads:
“It is evening, summer 1662, and approaching the banks of the great Sumida River is a woman of elegant but dishevelled appearance. The reason for her journey all the way from the capital of Kyoto is that her beloved son has gone missing. Frantic with worry, she is searching for him and has now journeyed far, far to the east. In her distracted state, she has pursued him all the way to the Sumida River.”
Sounds a bit “high brow” for us. I barely tolerate theatre at home, with my unsophisticated tastes in pop music, manga cartons and Hollywood movies. This kind of refined theatre would be completely wasted on us I think, so we’ll give it a miss. We did stop in Ginza for a 800 Yen (about $8 AUD) coffee and decided lunch here was going to break the bank, so we quickly moved on to more reasonable haunts for some ramen noodles instead
Note: A word of warning when seeking out noodles in Tokyo: be wary of “Misoichi Ramen” noodle houses.This eatery serves what they euphemistically call “Explosive Ramen Noodles”. Apparently each bowl contains an entire Chinese soup spoon of ground chilli paste. We didn’t know this when we walked in, but very soon found out….
So now, with a belly full of FIRE and the rain well and truly settled in for the afternoon, we are spending the rest of our day relaxing in a coffee shop, people watching and just soaking in that Tokyo vibe. More tales of adventure tomorrow folks!